Cutting UN peacekeeping operations: What will it say about America?

By Dennis Jett, Pennsylvania State University


In a recent speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, the American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, made clear the Trump administration wants to slash U.S. funds to the U.N., including support for peacekeeping. Ambassador Haley also asserted that “The United States is the moral conscience of the world.” The Conversation

Dennis Jett

While only about 40 American servicemen are among the 92,000 peacekeepers currently deployed in 16 active peacekeeping operations, the U.S. pays a little over 28 percent of the cost. That amounts to about US$2.2 billion out of the U.N.‘s peacekeeping budget of $7.8 billion. While that is a lot of money, advocates of peacekeeping point out that the total is less than one-half of one percent of what all the countries in the world spend on their armed forces.

It remains to be seen what the level of funding for these operations will actually be when Congress enacts the new budget. But it is worth considering what operations are actually contributing to peace and what the effects of cutting them would be. If the president and Congress want to spend less on peacekeeping, I believe they should consider starting with the five oldest operations first.

A brief review of the evolution of peacekeeping can help explain why. As a career diplomat, I was involved in a number of such operations around the world. Since I became an academic, it has been one of my areas of research.

Out with the old?

The U.N. engages in two distinct types of peacekeeping that result from two different types of conflict. One is following a war between two countries over territory. The U.N. became engaged in that kind of peacekeeping early on following the war that broke out in 1948 when Israel was created and then immediately attacked by its Arab neighbors.

The other is after a war over political power within a country. Civil wars have become the norm as the first type of conflict has become rare. Only one of 28 U.N. operations initiated in the last 20 years was the result of a war between countries.

Today, of the 16 current U.N. peacekeeping operations, the ones involving wars between countries are the five oldest, with an average age of more than 54 years. In a war over territory between countries, once a ceasefire is established, all the U.N. has to do is monitor the zone between the two armies to ensure that it remains demilitarized. But after so many years, the question is whether the work of these operations contributes to peace or just makes the status quo and the lack of a final resolution of the conflict permanent.

U.N. military observers in Ramallah, Palestine, 1948.
UN Photo

U.N. peacekeeping began after the war at Israel’s creation in 1948. Its first operation was the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization. It is still headquartered in Jerusalem, and its only real function is to provide military officers to other U.N. operations in the region. That could be accomplished by simply folding the required personnel into those operations and in my opinion no longer requires an entire standalone peacekeeping operation.

The second oldest is the U.N. Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, a relatively small and inexpensive operation. However, its presence since 1949 has not prevented India and Pakistan from fighting each other over the years. Since both countries have nuclear weapons, it could be argued that the U.N. presence makes some contribution to stability in the region, but that premise needs to be examined closely.

One reason these operations have lasted so long is that politicians on both sides often prefer the status quo. The alternative would often mean surrendering some of the territory the war was fought over.

Take the U.N. Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, launched in 1964 after fighting between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Various attempts over the years to bring the two communities back together have failed because the politicians involved haven’t engaged in serious negotiations to resolve their differences. The only thing this operation does at this point is allow that intransigence to have no consequences. The $56 million annual cost of the operation should be borne by Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, and not the U.N., so that there is some incentive to find a solution.

Because of the civil war in Syria, peacekeepers of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, established in 1974 after the Yom Kippur war, have been forced to retreat from Syria to the Israeli side of the border. Since they can no longer monitor the ceasefire zone between the two countries, the operation should be at least suspended.

What if there is no peace to keep?

The U.N. Interim Force was created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon in 1978. Today, the force must contend with Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group the U.S. considers a terrorist organization, which controls all of southern Lebanon and is stockpiling tens of thousands of rockets there. There is little hope that the Lebanese government will change this situation since Hezbollah has become part of it and holds a number of seats in parliament. The U.N. could save half a billion dollars a year by simply abolishing this operation, as it provides no deterrent to another war.

The mere presence of the peacekeepers is not going to change that situation either, as the mandate given to them by the Security Council does not allow them to search for weapons. To make matters worse, there is not a hint of a political process underway that might resolve the differences between Israel and Lebanon. As a result, this operation is unable to make meaningful contributions to peace and has even failed to investigate when Hezbollah arms caches have exploded in the past.

In the interest of saving the American taxpayers some money, there is one more non-U.N. peacekeeping operation that should be ended. It is the Multination Force and Observers, which was set up after the Camp David accords were signed in 1979 to monitor Sinai in order to permit Israelis to withdraw and Egypt to return.

It is not a U.N. operation because Russia threatened to veto any Security Council action to establish one. The MFO was set up to keep the Egyptian and Israeli armed forces apart, but those armies are now conducting joint combat operations, including drone strikes against terrorists in Sinai. The terrorism has also forced the peacekeepers to relocate to the southern end of the peninsula, far from the area they should be monitoring.

Peacekeeping has changed

The remaining 11 U.N. peacekeeping operations largely deal with civil wars in Africa. They are younger and more complex. The U.N. often must gather and demobilize most of the combatants, form a new national army from the rest, help organize democratic elections, provide humanitarian aid and begin economic reconstruction and development.

Because the fighting is over political power and the armies involved are usually poorly trained and equipped, they often resort to attacking noncombatants as a way to weaken the other side since one measure of political power is the number of supporters one side has. In these situations, civilian casualties and refugees spilling over into neighboring countries create humanitarian disasters, which places great pressure on the U.N. to send in the peacekeepers in their traditional blue helmets.

In her remarks, Ambassador Haley said that because the peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo deals with a corrupt government, the U.N. is aiding its predatory behavior. Her solution is to simply end the operation. In such unstable situations, however, U.N. peacekeepers can save lives. When stronger action against corrupt governments is needed, it is the responsibility of the Security Council to act and not the failure of peacekeepers.

Having spent the first half of 2016 on a Fulbright grant in Israel researching peacekeeping, I’m convinced that the operations in and around Israel are not making a significant contribution to its security. To the extent they do, the same work can be accomplished with a few drones and a handful of people to facilitate communications between both sides when they are talking to each other.

However, I’m also not convinced that Washington will make the right decisions when it comes to reducing American support for peacekeeping. If the victims of such a move are innocent civilians in Africa, another casualty will be the claim that America is the moral conscience of the world.

Dennis Jett, Professor of International Relations, Pennsylvania State University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump’s immigration executive orders: The demise of due process and discretion

A screenshot of the article published on The Conversation.

By Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia | Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar and Founding Director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic


The U.S. immigration code, passed by Congress in 1952, rivals the tax code in its level of complexity. The Conversation

In January, President Donald Trump signed three executive orders on immigration that have made matters more complicated for immigrants and the lawyers and advocates who fight on their behalf.

As an immigration lawyer and teacher, I have spent countless hours helping those in need and educating my community, which includes residents, educators, professors, international students and scholars, along with local government about the contents of the orders, and the guidelines released by the Department of Homeland Security in February and how they will be implemented.

Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia

Specifically, the two orders on deportations and enforcement, both signed on Jan. 25, reveal that the government is making three major changes.

First, the orders are making virtually every undocumented person a priority for deportation.

Second, they seek to maximize existing programs that allow deportation of individuals without basic due process. This includes the right to be heard by a judge, present evidence or challenge a charge of deportation.

And third, pursuant to its Feb. 20 memorandum, DHS has rescinded most documents that offered guidance on prosecutorial discretion.

Prosecutorial discretion in immigration law refers to the choice made by a government official or agency to enforce or not enforce the immigration law against a person. It has been the central focus of my research, and is a critical component in our immigration system. Officials must choose whom to prioritize for removal because they have limited resources. The government has also recognized other compelling reasons why a person might deserve to not be deported. For example, a person without papers who has lived in the United States for several years and has family ties, steady employment or community leadership may temporarily be protected from removal.

Do Trump’s executive orders signal an end to this practice?

Everyone is a priority

DHS has rescinded the 2014 Johnson Priorities Memo, which provided a framework for determining who is a priority for immigration enforcement and articulated the factors that should be considered when making decisions about whether to deport someone.

For example, the memo instructed DHS to consider amount of time spent living in the United States and “compelling humanitarian factors such as poor health, age, pregnancy, a young child, or a seriously ill relative.”

Now, the government is taking a hard-line approach to immigration enforcement, without explicit consideration for a person’s circumstances. The orders list specific parts of the 1952 immigration statute that target those eligible for deportation for reasons related to crimes or misrepresentation. But enforcement officials will also now target deportable immigrants who:

  • have been convicted of any criminal offense;
  • have been charged with any criminal offense that has not been resolved;
  • have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
  • have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter before a governmental agency;
  • have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;
  • are subject to a final order of removal but have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or
  • in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.

DHS guidance does not stop with this priority list. It goes on to suggest that any person without documents might be a priority. It repeatedly states: “All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”

Arguably, an undocumented parent living in the United States for several years and taking care of children who have formal or permanent immigration status, or United States citizenship, could be targeted as a person “in violation of the immigration laws,” whereas before this same person would have more clearly been eligible for prosecutorial discretion and not been labeled as a priority. Similarly, a student who overstays her visa and then jaywalks may be treated as an enforcement priority because jaywalking constitutes a chargeable offense.

The cumulative effect is fear that everyone is a priority.

Despite major changes to enforcement, the guidance from DHS suggests that individual prosecutorial discretion may be exercised on a case-by-case basis, and preserves three policies relating to enforcement.

One pertains to “sensitive locations” and instructs DHS to avoid enforcement in places like schools, places of worship and hospitals.

The second is a guideline on granting parole to certain arriving asylum seekers after a “credible fear” interview has been conducted. When an asylum seeker is “paroled,” she is released from detention and able to pursue her asylum claim outside of custody.

The final memo that is still intact is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA enables qualifying noncitizens who entered the United States at a young age, often referred to as “Dreamers,” to apply for protection from deportation and work authorization.

While I see the preservation of these guidelines as positive, the overriding message of the executive orders and implementation memos is one of speedy enforcement without discretion or due process.

Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia is the Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar and founding director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Pennsylvania State University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

China steps up as US steps back from global leadership

By Flynt L. Leverett, Pennsylvania State University and RH Sprinkle, University of Maryland


Chinese President Xi Jinping’s appearance at last week’s World Economic Forum shows global leadership is shifting, not drifting, toward Beijing. The most vigorous defense of globalization and multilateral cooperation was mounted not by an American statesman, but by the president of the People’s Republic of China.

“The problems troubling the world are not caused by globalization,” Xi declared. “Countries should view their own interest in the broader context and refrain from pursuing their own interests at the expense of others.”

Flynt L. Leverett

Speculation is mounting that the United States, with Donald Trump cast in the role of president, will ignore international challenges, renounce global responsibilities and abandon friends and allies.

As Washington greets a new administration disinclined to play a worldwide role, Beijing increasingly accepts opportunities to lead. Xi and his colleagues understand that their country’s domestic development and global ascendance require steady engagement and honest efforts abroad.

Yes, China has “done the right thing” before. It has restricted antibiotics in food-animal agriculture, created a new infrastructure-development bank for Asia, aided previously exploited African countries and promised to end its internal ivory trade.

But never before has China so forthrightly stepped up when the United States appears to be stepping away. As scholars of Chinese strategy and the intersection of science and politics, we see how Beijing’s ambitions and interests will affect its engagement on a range of important international issues.

The case of climate change

Climate change policy is one good example of this trend. Commentators warn that Trump’s pledge to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement would let China “off the hook” for curbing carbon emissions. In fact, China put itself “on the hook” in Paris for reasons having little to do with the United States.

China’s most urgent atmospheric problem is not carbon dioxide. It’s combustion toxicity from burning coal, oil and biomass. The Chinese these days don’t look through their air; they look at it. And what they see, they breathe.

Combustion toxicity has degraded China’s air quality so much, by Chinese assessments, as to destroy 10 percent of GDP annually since the late 1980s and cause hundreds of thousands of premature deaths every year. And air pollution has become China’s single greatest cause of social unrest.

In response, China is closing its old coal-fired power plants, and the new ones it’s building are much farther away from its prosperous and politically influential eastern cities. Other fossil-fueled industries are being put farther away, too. China has also contracted with Russia to buy huge amounts of natural gas, whose combustion emits lots of CO2 but not a lot of toxic air pollutants.

These moves will expose fewer people, especially prosperous urban dwellers, to toxic air pollution. On their own, though, these moves will not do much to meet carbon targets and restrain warming.

In an even better bet to clear its air, China is moving to add more nuclear, hydroelectric, solar and wind turbine generating capacity. Greenpeace estimates that during every hour of every day in 2015, China on average installed more than one new wind turbine, and enough solar panels to cover a soccer field.

China is already the world’s leading producer of renewable energy technologies. More remarkably, it is also the leading consumer. And in January, it announced plans to invest an additional US$360 billion in renewable power between now and 2020. That’s $120 billion a year.

These renewable power measures are being taken to fight China’s number one problem – air pollution – but they will also automatically cut China’s carbon emissions. If it can manage political rivalries among local power companies and upgrade its electrical grid to handle all that solar and wind capacity, then China is likely to meet its Paris commitments earlier than currently required.

Defecting from Paris would not help China address its air pollution problem. Defection would, however, reinforce the presumption that U.S. leadership is indispensable – a presumption Beijing is loath to perpetuate.

A savvier and more probable move is for China to assert – for the first time on a major global issue – moral authority. Chinese diplomats are already reassuring the world that China will keep and even expand its climate commitments. This message conveys Beijing’s resolve not to let to let multilateral greenhouse gas mitigation collapse, and show the way out of a crisis whose agreed solution is threatened by others’ malfeasance.

National interest in global leadership

If sustained, such action will mark a critical inflection point in China’s global role. It will become less a challenger to an established order, and more a champion of a common cause. The United States will risk being regarded as aloof and unreliable and, following its 2016 election, even politically unstable.

Likewise, Beijing is asserting greater leadership in other areas once led by Washington. With the demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Washington negotiated with 11 Asian countries excluding China, Beijing is promoting its own Pacific trade-and-investment framework excluding the United States.

Even more grandly, Xi is articulating an alternative vision for global economic growth. The model focuses on physical investment, especially in transportation and IT infrastructure. In this, it is linked to the new Silk Road project, through which China is expanding linkages across Eurasia by integrating railways, ports and information networks into transnational corridors. The Chinese approach also does not rely on portfolio investment and central banks exertions to drive growth – a sharp contrast to Western policies.

Ceding global moral authority to China would be a high price for America to pay for the pleasures of political posturing. Yet a China leading by example would have a greater stake in its own reputation, and the greater that stake becomes the more engaged China becomes. Such a China, we believe, could profoundly benefit the world.The Conversation

Flynt L. Leverett is a professor of International Affairs and Asian Studies at Pennsylvania State University and RH Sprinkle is an associate professor at University of Maryland. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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